Scratched Someone's Car. Left Note, Took Photos. What Else to Do?
October 23, 2004 9:54 PM   Subscribe

Accident Filter. I just hit a car in a parking lot... [mi]

I was backing up and bumped a red car that was parked behind me. I stopped and looked at the damage. Literally, there were no dents or anything like that on the car I hit. There was one scratch about 1.5inches long in the paint which was probably due to me, but could've been there previously. I left a note saying "I bumped your car, please call me if you notice anything." (And my name and number). I took pictures with a PDA, but it was dark and the lighting wasn't too good.

Any tips or anything on what I should do now? How do I deal with the person I hit on the phone? How do I deal with the police if that comes up? With my insurance company? I've never had anything like this happen to me, and I'm pretty freaked out. Thanks MeFi.
posted by ruwan to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total)
Hi, I hit your car. Sorry, it was an accident.

Sure, I'll pay for the gunk you buy from the auto store that gets scratches out.
posted by adampsyche at 9:59 PM on October 23, 2004

Just be as friendly as possible to the person, even if they aren't and see what they want to do. If you're really worried about the hassle, get your insurance company involved (but your rates will probably go up).
posted by drezdn at 10:25 PM on October 23, 2004

Just as a warning, a close friend of mine got nailed for "leaving the scene" after she dinged a car in the parking lot at 3am and left a note with her contact info.

She ended up having to go to court on it, believe it or not.

Fortunately the case was immediately thrown out by the judge, but you may want to think about finding a lawyer. Don't hire one -- but if you've never used a lawyer before you might want to see if anyone you know has recommendations.
posted by aramaic at 10:37 PM on October 23, 2004

The police probably don't want to be involved in something where there's only a small amount of cosmetic damage. Try to be nice when the other person calls -- this was your fault, and it will cost time and money for the other person to fix it. drezdn is right: consider handling it without the insurance company -- but DON'T try to tell the other person how to fix it, or how much it ought to cost.
posted by coelecanth at 10:38 PM on October 23, 2004

This happened to me once. My girlfriend hit someone backing out of my driveway on the way to her job. Her insurance was already insanely expensive, so I didn't want her to report it (since the damage was less then $1000); she left a note, mentioning that she was sorry that she didn't wait, but she didn't want to miss work.

Once they call, apologize for hitting their car and offer to pay for the damage. If you don't want to deal with insurance, tell them that, but assure them you will pay. Ask them to get a couple of estimates, preferably at least one of them from a body shop you know. As it happened in my case, their body shop was cheaper than mine. The person whose car was damaged asked me to send them a cashier's check for the lower estimate. I told them I'd pay the body shop directly. Definitely do that, because you don't want them just pocketing the money, unless you get some consideration for it (a lower settlement). Once you've paid the body shop, you can tell the person that they can take their car into the shop at their convenience.

Your primary goal is to make the person you hit as comfortable as possible, so that they'll be less likely to report it to the police or the insurance company if you don't want them to. Frankly, the fact that you left a note should serve you well, because most of the time, people will just run from minor bumps rather than deal with the hassle and, in my case, I think the people were just so shocked that someone would be honest enough to leave a note that they were completely cool about me just paying.

Don't worry about the police or insurance company being involved, though. A small accident is absolutely nothing and completely routine for them. The only possible problem is that your insurance rates will go up if your insurance company has to pay out any money.
posted by MegoSteve at 10:49 PM on October 23, 2004

I bumped someone in a parking lot and made a small dent two years ago. I left my info with the guy, and he was pretty busy so it took a while, but we basically worked out a deal where we both called some body shops, found the best possible price, and I gave him some money to cover the cost. It really wasn't worth involving the insurance or the police, and probably worked well this way.
posted by weston at 11:46 PM on October 23, 2004

There's a reason a lot of people bump-and-run. My dad dinged a car with his door, and despite my mom's protestations (he was on a moralistic streak) that you couldn't see any damage, left a note. The guy whose Caddy it was used the note leveraged the note and legal threats into covering a couple *other* marks on that side of his car. Since the paint was metallic, my dad wound up paying for a whole paint job. And you couldn't even see the damage he did.
posted by notsnot at 8:18 AM on October 24, 2004

heh, I wouldn't have even left the note.
posted by angry modem at 9:13 AM on October 24, 2004

heh, I wouldn't have even left the note.
The problem is if someone- or worse the person you hit- saw the hit, be it with a door or reversing would be bad news. As aramaic refered to, it is still legally a hit and run in some counties and I have heard of security people reporting incidents such as those listed above. However, I also agree that it is just best to leave insurance and police out of this at all costs. If it is minor repairs, buy the time you pay out of pocket, the savings in insurance will more than cover the expense in the long run.
posted by jmd82 at 11:43 AM on October 24, 2004

If the damage was that slight (so slight that you don't even know if you did it), I'd chalk it up to normal wear and tear and forget about it. Dings and scratches are the expected consequences of use.
posted by SPrintF at 12:31 PM on October 24, 2004

That's when you leave a note saying "The people watching me just THINK I'm leaving my name and number, but I'm not!"

(I kid, I kid: I've hit a car in a parking lot, left a note, and paid for the damage I caused.)
posted by Vidiot at 12:48 PM on October 24, 2004

I guess if someone hit my car, I'd want them to leave a note. I think you did the right thing.

Interesting that there seems to be a different standard for bumping a car in a parking lot vs. bumping fenders when you're parallel parking in the city. I've seen people really knock a car backing into a tight space (sometimes hitting the car behind AND in front) and then nonchalantly walk away. Why is that?
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 1:07 PM on October 24, 2004

They're assholes?
posted by Vidiot at 3:45 PM on October 24, 2004

Because bumpers are for bumping?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:56 PM on October 24, 2004

I'd pay the body shop directly. Definitely do that, because you don't want them just pocketing the money

Legally (and morally) it's none of your business whether they get the car fixed or blow the money on lottery tickets. If you did $100 worth of damage, you owe them $100. Not $90, if they decide to pocket the money, and not $110 if they decide to go to a more expensive body shop (or have other dings fixed too).
posted by spacewrench at 7:07 PM on October 24, 2004

heh, I wouldn't have even left the note.

Doesn't that put an upper limit on the price of your integrity?
posted by joaquim at 7:40 PM on October 24, 2004

Interesting that there seems to be a different standard for bumping a car in a parking lot vs. bumping fenders when you're parallel parking in the city.

Something I learned when on the recieving end of a well documented side-mirror clip in my apartment lot:
Where I live, if you hit someone on the street while parking and leave the scene, it's a hit and run. If someone is hit in a privately owned parking lot, it's a civil matter between you, the other guy and a judge. Police will take a report but won't do anything to/for you. In my situation, it was only $100 worth of damage and the guy was a prick, refusing to take responsibility. It wasn't worth the hassle for the money, but I thought it would bring a little vindication if he got a ticket out of the deal. Cops told me that if it had happened 20 feet away on the street's diagonal parking, they could write it up, but since it happened on private property, I was on my own.
posted by guidedbychris at 10:43 PM on October 24, 2004

I wouldn't have either, joaquim.

Having dealt with another person on this exact sort of thing, the price of my integrity is, according to my insurance, give or take, about 5000x the cost of the damage from the accident. I'd say that's high enough.

Of course you'll all whine and say nasty things about me and my attitude towards insurance companies and other drivers. That's ok. One day it'll happen to you (as in, hit an asshole who wants $$$ for a bumper scratch on a 15 year old rusted out shitbox and thinks they have whiplash from a 5 km/h accident and asks the cop if they need an ambulance) and you'll grow up on this issue as well. It's a car. It's not even a fucking show car. Get over it. Defending against a hit and run shouldn't cost $10,000 in lawyer fees, so what the hell, it's cheaper.
posted by shepd at 2:41 AM on October 25, 2004

I was involved in a small accident, more or less my fault, where the other fellow broke a headlight and had some minor denting in the front, and some damage to my vehicle nothing serious on either side. At that time I couldn't afford to pay him directly. It was enough of his fault that both our insurance rates would have went up, so I said if you want to have it fixed I am more than willing to turn in a claim, but considering it is small I am also open to not doing anything and walk away from it and we can fix our respective vehicles. After a bunch of hemming and hawing (turns out he had been involved in a major accident not long before) we let it stand without insurance. Ok, fine. Then 8 months later I get a call from him asking for money to fix the car. Suffice to say I was rather surprised and blew him off (not something I do casually). Never called back
posted by edgeways at 11:31 AM on October 25, 2004

Doesn't that put an upper limit on the price of your integrity?

Ouch, babe.

Shepd: if you hit somebody's car, you should pay for the repairs, whether the car is a rolls royce or a shitbox is irrelevant. Anyway, this is why car insurance is mandatory in most countries.
posted by sic at 11:51 AM on October 25, 2004

Legally (and morally) it's none of your business whether they get the car fixed or blow the money on lottery tickets.

I don't think that's the case at all, especially the "morality" part. Of course it's my business how the money is spent. I guess I see it differently, but if I hit someone's car doing $100 damage, they aren't out $100 as if I pulled it out of their wallet, they're out a dent. I will fix the dent to make them whole, but I'm not going to give them $100 they didn't have in the first place. If they are willing to accept the scratch, that means they don't think it's worth $100 to fix. If it's not worth $100 to them, why would it be worth that much to me?

A car is not a cash machine.

If anything, it's immoral to take money earmarked for a car repair and spend it on something else, especially if you don't own the car free and clear.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:04 PM on October 25, 2004

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